Ms. Carreon-John noted that more than a third of the U.S. track and field women’s roster is made up of Nike athletes. “Individual situations of a handful of athletes are not representative of Nike’s support of women’s sport,” she said, adding, “No footwear, apparel or equipment manufacturer provides the level of support Nike provides to women’s sport, period.”
To be sure, Nike is a huge company and has supported a sprawling number of athletes for decades. “Nike has done a lot of great things, but sometimes when you’re the big brand, there are more opportunities to get things wrong at the end of the day,” said Merhawi Keflezighi, founder of HAWI Management, who represented Mr. Berian and manages Ms. Pappas. He commended the company for changing its policies for pregnant athletes and added that since 2016, the industry has become less aggressive about reduction clauses in contracts.
The new sponsorship opportunities are arising as the athletic apparel market continues to grow — a trend further fueled by the pandemic. Athleta and Lululemon were among the rare apparel brands that saw sales soar last year. In the running world, there were five to six brands that were more visible at the U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore., in June than in the past, Ms. Neuburger of Lululemon said.
“The athletic sportswear and athleisure market is transforming from growth to maturity with newer and rising entrants,” said Angeline Close Scheinbaum, associate professor of marketing at Clemson University. “So naturally, a shift in athlete endorsers from the market leader to other brands is occurring.”
Dr. Scheinbaum said that she viewed the trend as less of an exodus from established leaders and more about “athletes, especially women, joining a smaller brand that can become synonymous with these star athletes and their platforms and stories.”
Indeed, brands that are pursuing elite women athletes are keen to embrace their backgrounds and causes that matter to them. Ms. Cain said that the most famous women athletes have often become household names because they have an “and” tied to their performance — “athlete and activist” or “athlete and mental health advocate,” she said.
“Unless you have five different ways to sell yourself, you’re just not valued monetarily in the same way as the white dude next to you is,” she said. While that dynamic is unfair, she said, it has created a situation where women athletes often have bigger and more engaged followings online, and more brands are starting to take notice of that.
In the story of how the modern world was constructed, Toyota stands out as the mastermind of a monumental advance in industrial efficiency. The Japanese automaker pioneered so-called Just In Time manufacturing, in which parts are delivered to factories right as they are required, minimizing the need to stockpile them.
Over the last half-century, this approach has captivated global business in industries far beyond autos. From fashion to food processing to pharmaceuticals, companies have embraced Just In Time to stay nimble, allowing them to adapt to changing market demands, while cutting costs.
But the tumultuous events of the past year have challenged the merits of paring inventories, while reinvigorating concerns that some industries have gone too far, leaving them vulnerable to disruption. As the pandemic has hampered factory operations and sown chaos in global shipping, many economies around the world have been bedeviled by shortages of a vast range of goods — from electronics to lumber to clothing.
In a time of extraordinary upheaval in the global economy, Just In Time is running late.
“It’s sort of like supply chain run amok,” said Willy C. Shih, an international trade expert at Harvard Business School. “In a race to get to the lowest cost, I have concentrated my risk. We are at the logical conclusion of all that.”
shortage of computer chips — vital car components produced mostly in Asia. Without enough chips on hand, auto factories from India to the United States to Brazil have been forced to halt assembly lines.
But the breadth and persistence of the shortages reveal the extent to which the Just In Time idea has come to dominate commercial life. This helps explain why Nike and other apparel brands struggle to stock retail outlets with their wares. It’s one of the reasons construction companies are having trouble purchasing paints and sealants. It was a principal contributor to the tragic shortages of personal protective equipment early in the pandemic, which left frontline medical workers without adequate gear.
a shortage of lumber that has stymied home building in the United States.
Suez Canal this year, closing the primary channel linking Europe and Asia.
“People adopted that kind of lean mentality, and then they applied it to supply chains with the assumption that they would have low-cost and reliable shipping,” said Mr. Shih, the Harvard Business School trade expert. “Then, you have some shocks to the system.”
An Idea That Went ‘Way Too Far’
presentation for the pharmaceutical industry. It promised savings of up to 50 percent on warehousing if clients embraced its “lean and mean” approach to supply chains.
Such claims have panned out. Still, one of the authors of that presentation, Knut Alicke, a McKinsey partner based in Germany, now says the corporate world exceeded prudence.
“We went way too far,” Mr. Alicke said in an interview. “The way that inventory is evaluated will change after the crisis.”
Many companies acted as if manufacturing and shipping were devoid of mishaps, Mr. Alicke added, while failing to account for trouble in their business plans.
“There’s no kind of disruption risk term in there,” he said.
Experts say that omission represents a logical response from management to the incentives at play. Investors reward companies that produce growth in their return on assets. Limiting goods in warehouses improves that ratio.
study. These savings helped finance another shareholder-enriching trend — the growth of share buybacks.
In the decade leading up to the pandemic, American companies spent more than $6 trillion to buy their own shares, roughly tripling their purchases, according to a study by the Bank for International Settlements. Companies in Japan, Britain, France, Canada and China increased their buybacks fourfold, though their purchases were a fraction of their American counterparts.
Repurchasing stock reduces the number of shares in circulation, lifting their value. But the benefits for investors and executives, whose pay packages include hefty allocations of stock, have come at the expense of whatever the company might have otherwise done with its money — investing to expand capacity, or stockpiling parts.
These costs became conspicuous during the first wave of the pandemic, when major economies including the United States discovered that they lacked capacity to quickly make ventilators.
“When you need a ventilator, you need a ventilator,” Mr. Sodhi said. “You can’t say, ‘Well, my stock price is high.’”
When the pandemic began, car manufacturers slashed orders for chips on the expectation that demand for cars would plunge. By the time they realized that demand was reviving, it was too late: Ramping up production of computer chips requires months.
stock analysts on April 28. The company said the shortages would probably derail half of its production through June.
The automaker least affected by the shortage is Toyota. From the inception of Just In Time, Toyota relied on suppliers clustered close to its base in Japan, making the company less susceptible to events far away.
‘It All Cascades’
In Conshohocken, Pa., Mr. Romano is literally waiting for his ship to come in.
He is vice president of sales at Van Horn, Metz & Company, which buys chemicals from suppliers around the world and sells them to factories that make paint, ink and other industrial products.
In normal times, the company is behind in filling perhaps 1 percent of its customers’ orders. On a recent morning, it could not complete a tenth of its orders because it was waiting for supplies to arrive.
The company could not secure enough of a specialized resin that it sells to manufacturers that make construction materials. The American supplier of the resin was itself lacking one element that it purchases from a petrochemical plant in China.
One of Mr. Romano’s regular customers, a paint manufacturer, was holding off on ordering chemicals because it could not locate enough of the metal cans it uses to ship its finished product.
“It all cascades,” Mr. Romano said. “It’s just a mess.”
No pandemic was required to reveal the risks of overreliance on Just In Time combined with global supply chains. Experts have warned about the consequences for decades.
In 1999, an earthquake shook Taiwan, shutting down computer chip manufacturing. The earthquake and tsunami that shattered Japan in 2011 shut down factories and impeded shipping, generating shortages of auto parts and computer chips. Floods in Thailand the same year decimated production of computer hard drives.
Each disaster prompted talk that companies needed to bolster their inventories and diversify their suppliers.
Each time, multinational companies carried on.
The same consultants who promoted the virtues of lean inventories now evangelize about supply chain resilience — the buzzword of the moment.
Simply expanding warehouses may not provide the fix, said Richard Lebovitz, president of LeanDNA, a supply chain consultant based in Austin, Texas. Product lines are increasingly customized.
“The ability to predict what inventory you should keep is harder and harder,” he said.
Ultimately, business is likely to further its embrace of lean for the simple reason that it has yielded profits.
“The real question is, ‘Are we going to stop chasing low cost as the sole criteria for business judgment?’” said Mr. Shih, from Harvard Business School. “I’m skeptical of that. Consumers won’t pay for resilience when they are not in crisis.”
A Brooklyn company that was sued by Nike over the unauthorized sale of Satan Shoes — an aftermarket sneaker that contains a drop of blood and was promoted by the rapper Lil Nas X — agreed on Thursday to accept returns of the footwear as part of a settlement.
The company, MSCHF, will offer refunds to people who want to return the sneakers under the terms of the settlement, according to Nike, which said in a statement that the purpose of the “voluntary recall” was to remove the shoes from circulation.
The settlement came a week after a U.S. District Court judge in Brooklyn granted Nike a temporary restraining order against MSCHF (pronounced mischief) after it sued the company last month.
A total of 666 pairs of the Satan Shoes were produced by MSCHF, which incorporated drops of its employees’ blood and ink into an air bubble in the Nike Air Max 97 sneakers. Each pair cost $1,018. They sold out in less than a minute last month.
“Luke 10:18” — a reference to the biblical passage that says, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” — is printed on them.
A previous line of unauthorized Nike sneakers that MSCHF sold, which was named the Jesus Shoe and contained holy water, can also be returned for a refund, Nike said.
“In both cases, MSCHF altered these shoes without Nike’s authorization,” Nike said in a statement on Thursday. “Nike had nothing to do with the Satan Shoes or the Jesus Shoes.”
A lawyer for MSCHF did not dispute that the company had agreed to the voluntary buyback, but said on Thursday that he could not disclose the terms of the settlement.
music video for his song “Montero (Call Me by Your Name),” in which he gyrates on Satan’s lap.
In the song, Lil Nas X, who was born Montero Lamar Hill, “cheerfully rejoices in lust as a gay man,” wrote Jon Pareles, the chief music critic for The New York Times.
Lil Nas X came out in 2019. The song’s title is an apparent reference to “Call Me by Your Name,” a novel about a clandestine summer romance between two men that was adapted into a film.
Mr. Bernstein said all but one pair of the Satan Shoes had been shipped to buyers before the temporary restraining order had been issued on April 1.
He described the sneakers, which are individually numbered, as works of art that represent the ideals of equality and inclusion. Mr. Bernstein said MSCHF had looked forward to arguing that its activities were covered under the First Amendment right of artistic expression.
“However, having already achieved its artistic purpose, MSCHF recognized that settlement was the best way to allow it to put this lawsuit behind it so that it could dedicate its time to new artistic and expressive projects,” he said.
Nike said it would not be responsible for any issues with sneakers that people decide to keep.
“Purchasers who choose not to return their shoes and later encounter a product issue, defect, or health concern should contact MSCHF, not Nike,” the company said.
Propaganda officials quietly celebrated in Beijing two days after a Chinese social-media post helped ignite a frenzy of outrage against Western clothing brands, according to people familiar with the matter, in what they saw as a victory in a new effort to inoculate China against criticisms from the West.
The furor that scorched Hennes & Mauritz AB’s H&M , Nike Inc., Adidas AG and other boldface names of global retail, threatening them with lost revenues in one of the world’s most lucrative consumer markets, began with a message from a blogger on China’s Twitter -like Weibo service on March 23, according to an analysis by Doublethink Lab, a Taipei-based nonprofit that has researched online Chinese state disinformation. China fanned the flames the next day through state-media outlets and Communist Party-affiliated social-media accounts.
The campaign, directed at H&M and other companies over their expressions of concern about forced labor and discrimination against the mostly Muslim Uyghur minority in China’s remote Xinjiang region, came as Beijing draws lessons from what it considers a successful fight with the West over another hot-button issue, Hong Kong.
At a meeting late last month officials from China’s Foreign Ministry and the Communist Party’s Propaganda Department raised the example of Hong Kong, and talked about the need to push back on Xinjiang as international attention has shifted to the Uyghurs, according to people briefed on the proceedings.
After pro-democracy protests broke out in Hong Kong in 2019, Beijing authorities initially censored the news on the Chinese internet before reversing course and promoting protest images as evidence of an alleged plot by Western powers to destabilize China. The Communist Party has since cemented its grip on the former British colony, winning support at home despite opposition from Western governments.
H&M faces a boycott. Tommy Hilfiger, Adidas, Nike, Converse and Calvin Klein have lost their brand ambassadors. Burberry has had to give up an online video game partnership.
Western brands are suddenly feeling the wrath of the Chinese consumer, the very shoppers who for years have clamored for their products and paid them vast amounts of money. Egged on by the ruling Communist Party, Chinese online activists are punishing foreign companies that have joined a call to avoid using cotton produced in the Chinese region of Xinjiang, where the authorities are waging a broad campaign of repression against ethnic minorities.
The sudden bout of rage lays bare the vulnerability of foreign companies as tensions worsen between China and the United States and other countries. Lawmakers in the United States in particular who have been increasingly critical of China have pressured international companies to take a public stance on China’s human rights practices, including in Xinjiang. That makes the companies convenient targets for Chinese officials who are aggressively pushing back against American officials.
“A lot of Western countries and China are pretty black-and-white on this issue. There’s not a lot of gray,” said Trey McArver, a co-founder of Trivium China, a consultancy that helps foreign businesses sell in China, referring to the opposing stances over Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang. “You can’t agree with both of them, so I don’t think it’s an easy answer.”
imposed fresh sanctions on top Chinese officials this week. These sought to punish Beijing for abuses against the Uyghurs and other minorities, which have been well documented by foreign media and rights groups. There is also growing evidence that cotton from Xinjiang is linked to coercive labor programs and mass internment of as many as one million Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other largely Muslim minorities, the U.S. government and rights groups say.
It isn’t clear what the long-term impact might be on Western companies that depend on China to make or buy their products. On Thursday, there was still a steady stream of shoppers at several popular H&M and Nike outlets in Shanghai and Beijing. Previous state media-driven pressure campaigns against companies like Apple, Starbucks and Volkswagen failed to dent Chinese demand for their products.
Still, their position could become increasingly precarious as Beijing looks for ways to counter the narrative. And it is no stranger to flexing its economic muscle for political ends.
Years earlier, after South Korea embraced an American antimissile defense system, the Chinese government fed anti-South Korean sentiment in the country that forced Lotte Mart, a popular South Korean supermarket, to shut many of its outlets. The missile system stayed, but Beijing was still able to exact pain.
Such tactics have become a common feature of China’s increasingly aggressive brand of diplomacy. Chinese diplomats now routinely deploy a mix of threats and nationalistic messages to browbeat Beijing’s critics and assert the country’s interests.
phrase traced to Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, who, in demanding loyalty to the party, said in 2014: “Never allow eating the Communist Party’s food and then smashing the Communist Party’s cooking pots.”
raised concerns about labor in Xinjiang. She said she was now skeptical of the brand. “I probably would not buy it from now on,” she said.
Chinese state media outlets have overtly stoked the outrage with hashtags on social media and bold headlines. Government officials have sought to depict the outcry as authentic, with a Commerce Ministry spokesman saying on Thursday that Chinese consumers were “hoping that the relevant companies would correct their wrong practices.”
For decades, foreign companies operating in China have been largely wary of appearing critical of the Chinese government. And in recent years, several of them have been besieged by a growing army of nationalistic online users, who have been ready to pounce on the three T’s: Tibet, Taiwan and Tiananmen. All have been quick to apologize, and emerged largely unscathed.
an alliance to curb China’s influence, Beijing, emboldened by its success in curbing the coronavirus outbreak at home, is pushing back hard against what it perceives as hypocrisy.
“It might get more heated,” said Jörg Wuttke, the president of the European Chamber of Commerce in China, in an email. More European companies are going to be caught between a rock and a hard place, he said. “Everybody has to service their domestic crowd.”
But for many of these companies, the issue is more complicated than a matter of managing public relations.
To obtain cotton, the companies almost certainly need to get it from Xinjiang, which produces 87 percent of the material in China. Roughly one in five cotton garments sold globally contains cotton or yarn from Xinjiang.
But in January, the Trump administration announced a ban on imports of cotton from Xinjiang, as well as all products made with those materials, putting pressure on brands to check their supply chains. Rights groups such as the Uyghur Human Rights Project have also been pushing American lawmakers to enact sweeping legislation that would block imports from Xinjiang, unless companies can prove that their supply chains are free of forced labor.
Ms. Hua, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, on Thursday denounced the accusations of forced labor, saying Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang provided employment opportunities to lift people out of poverty.
“The accusation of ‘forced labor’ in Xinjiang is entirely a lie concocted by certain anti-China forces,” she said. “The purpose is to discredit China’s image, undermine Xinjiang’s security and stability and impede China’s development.”
Communist Youth League, an influential Communist Party organization, and state media highlighted a statement that the company made eight months ago setting out its concerns about forced labor in Xinjiang. That prompted Chinese internet users to call for a boycott.
The company responded on Wednesday by saying its statement last year on Xinjiang did not “represent any political position.” That made internet users, who were baying for an apology, only more furious.
On Thursday, a mall in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, shut an H&M outlet, urging the company to apologize formally to people in the region. In the southwestern city of Chengdu, workers dismantled the company’s sign from a store.
“I don’t expect this to die down,” said Surya Deva, an associate professor at the City University of Hong Kong and a member of the United Nations working group on business and human rights. “This is a different trajectory and a different era.”
Justine Nolan, a professor in Sydney at the faculty of law and justice at the University of New South Wales, said it was also an opportunity for foreign companies to demonstrate their support for human rights.
“They are now being put to the test,” she added. “This is the red line for them — and it’s not an issue that they can afford to be halfhearted about.”
Reporting and research were contributed by Coral Yang, Claire Fu, Chris Buckley and Elsie Chen.
When the N.B.A. shut down its season last year because of the pandemic, one of the first phone calls Chris Paul made was to the Hollywood producer Brian Grazer. Mr. Paul, then a point guard with the Oklahoma Thunder, knew he wanted to chronicle what was going on, and he wanted Mr. Grazer’s help.
“The idea was, basically, film everything that had taken place in that game that night and what was going to come of it,” Mr. Paul said. “We had no clue what would happen next.”
The result was “The Day Sports Stood Still,” a documentary about the shutdown, the N.B.A.’s pandemic bubble and the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement on the league. (Mr. Paul appears in the film and is an executive producer.) It is a portrait of the ways the pandemic convulsed the sports world, but also an example of how Covid-19 has upended the entertainment industry.
The film, which debuts Wednesday on HBO and HBO Max, comes from Mr. Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment and a newer entrant to Hollywood: Waffle Iron Entertainment, Nike’s production entity.
General Electric Theater” television show from 1954 through 1962.
In the past decade, branded filmmaking has only proliferated.
Patagonia funded a feature-length documentary about dams, called “DamNation,” in 2014. Pepsi backed the 2018 movie “Uncle Drew,” which showcased the basketball star Kyrie Irving recreating his septuagenarian character from a popular series of Pepsi Max commercials. The film made $42 million and marked one of the first branded entertainment campaigns to be adapted into a major motion picture. “Gay Chorus Deep South,” a documentary produced by Airbnb, debuted on the festival circuit in 2019. And Apple’s acclaimed “Ted Lasso” began its life as an NBC Sports promotion for its acquisition of the broadcast rights to the English Premier League.
Imagine Entertainment, the production company founded by Mr. Grazer and Ron Howard in 1985, formed Imagine Brands in 2018 to pair companies with filmmakers, hiring Mr. Wilkes and Marc Gilbar, the creator of the “Uncle Drew” Pepsi campaign and an executive producer on the film, to run the group. The division has produced both feature-length documentaries and narrative films with their partners, which have included Unilever, Walmart and Ford.
Imagine is also working with the consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble. The company, which effectively created soap operas when it began to sponsor serial radio dramas in the 1930s to help promote its soap products, is cofinancing a feature-length film with Imagine called “Mars 2080.” It will be directed by Eliza McNitt and begin production later this year. The film, which is scheduled to be released theatrically by IMAX in 2022 before moving to a streaming service, focuses on a family resettling on Mars.
It grew out of a breakfast in New York in 2019, where Mr. Wilkes, Mr. Howard and Marc Pritchard, Procter & Gamble’s chief brand officer, discussed technology in the pipeline. The Imagine team later toured Procter & Gamble’s research labs in Cincinnati, seeing examples of its “home of the future” products and meeting its scientists.
Kimberly Doebereiner, the vice president of Procter & Gamble’s future of advertising division, said the company hoped to do more long-form storytelling, like “The Cost of Winning,” the four-part sports documentary its shaving brand Gillette produced. It debuted on HBO in November.
“We want to be more interesting so consumers are leaning into our experiences and we’re creating content that they want to see as opposed to messages that are annoying to them,” she said. “Finding a way to have content that is in places where ads don’t exist is definitely one of the reasons why we’re leaning into this.”
It’s all part of a deliberate shift by brands to try to integrate themselves more fully into consumers’ lives, the way companies like Apple and Amazon have, said Dipanjan Chatterjee, an analyst with Forrester. And they want to do so without commercials, which, he said, have “zero credibility” with consumers.
“If the right story has the right ingredients and it becomes worthwhile for sharing, it doesn’t come across as an intrusive bit of advertising,” Mr. Chatterjee said. “It feels much more like a natural part of our lives.”
Alessandro Uzielli, the head of Ford Motor Company’s global brand and entertainment division, first met with Imagine Brands in early 2018. He was looking for a way to augment Ford’s advertising campaign for its relaunched Bronco with a piece of entertainment that would reach a younger audience. The result was “John Bronco,” a 37-minute long mockumentary directed by Jake Szymanski (“Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates”) and starring Walton Goggins (“Justified”) as the greatest fictional pitchman of all time.
The short film earned a slot in the Tribeca Film Festival and is now streaming on Hulu. In addition to featuring guest spots from Tim Meadows, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bo Derek, it helped reintroduce the Bronco, a sport utility vehicle that the automaker pulled in the mid-1990s.
“This helped us speak to an audience that we probably weren’t going to speak to on our own,” Mr. Uzielli said.
“It was Imagine’s project, and we didn’t want to cloud their process, to try to make it feel like too much of a sales job,” he added.
Mr. Szymanski, who has directed both feature films and commercials, including ads for the Dodge Durango starring Will Ferrell’s “Anchorman” character Ron Burgundy, said Ford allowed him a great deal of creative freedom. “I think they could have tried to impose a much larger shadow on it than they did,” he said.
Now, Imagine, Mr. Szymanski and Mr. Goggins are trying to turn John Bronco into the next Ted Lasso — an effort in the early stages of development.
“It’s kind of a win-win,” Mr. Szymanski said of a possible television series based on Mr. Goggins’ character. “I don’t think Ford would have any creative control over it but to have a character named John Bronco in the world, that would be a good thing for them.”